Leaf Epidermal Hydathodes and the Ecophysiological Consequences of Foliar Water Uptake in Species of Crassula from the Namib Desert in Southern Africa


Department of Botany University of Kansas Lawrence Kansas 66045 USA E-mail: ecophys@falcon.cc.ukans.edu


Abstract: Epidermal hydathodes were found on leaves of 46 of 48 species of Crassula collected from the Namib Desert in southern Africa. The possibility that these structures might allow the absorption of surface water was investigated in 27 species (including subspecies). The presence of hydathodes on leaf epidermi correlated, in most cases, with increases in leaf thickness and enhanced rates of nocturnal, and sometimes diurnal, CO2 uptake following wetting of the leaves during the night. The precise nature of these responses varied depending on the species. In addition, wetting only the older leaves on the lower portion of the shoot of C. tetragona ssp. acutifolia not only resulted in increased thickness of these leaves, but also effected an increase in leaf thickness and stimulation of CO2 uptake rates in the distal, younger portion of the shoot that was not wetted. Overall, foliar hydathodes were implicated in the absorption of surface water in many species of Crassula such that the ecophysiology of these desert succulents was positively affected. Although rainfall in the Namib Desert is infrequent, surface wetting of the leaves is a more common occurrence as a result of nighttime dew or fog deposition. Presumably, species with hydathodes benefit directly from this source of moisture. These findings have important implications in understanding a relatively unexplored adaptation of some xerophytes to an extremely arid environment.